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 Administrator
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#32728
Complete Question Explanation

Evaluate the ArgumentX. The correct answer choice is (B)

Evaluate the Argument questions are extremely rare on the LSAT, and Evaluate-EXCEPT are even rarer: this one is only the fifth such question to be included in a Logical Reasoning section. While you should not let this throw you off, make sure to understand precisely what the question stem is asking you to do, once you have correctly understood the stimulus.

The conclusion can easily be identified in the last sentence of the stimulus, thanks to the conclusion indicator “therefore.” The sentence is quite wordy, so let’s simplify it: the activist believes that alternative sources of energy—such as deriving oil from sewage sludge—can be just as good as nuclear power in meeting our energy needs, while also diminishing the risk of environmental damage. Little support is given for either of these claims. First, we need to know how much energy is currently generated by nuclear power plants, and whether alternative energy sources can match that supply. Second, the activist assumes that alternative energy sources are safer than nuclear power generation, but that is not necessarily true, as no evidence is provided to that effect. Quite simply, the stimulus contains very little information to help us perform the type of cost/benefit analysis necessary to evaluate the feasibility of the solution proposed.

The question stem asks us to identify the LEAST helpful consideration in evaluating the practicability of this solution. In other words, four of the answer choices will help us perform the cost/benefit analysis described above: they will raise questions whose answers will reveal whether the conclusion is strong or weak. The answer choice that fails to bring up a relevant consideration will be the correct one. If you run into a Contender, apply the Variance Test: supply different and opposing answers to the question posed in the answer choice. If the consideration is relevant to the conclusion, then supplying opposite answers should yield different views of that conclusion. If the consideration is irrelevant, then our assessment of the conclusion would not change.

Answer choice (A). Here, the question is whether dumping sewage sludge causes environmental damage. This is a relevant consideration, given the activist’s claim that new energy sources, such as sewage sludge oil, cause less harm to the environment than nuclear power generation does. You can verify this by using the Variance Test. First, try the answer “No.” If sewage sludge dumping causes no environmental harm, then the conclusion becomes stronger. But if the answer were “Yes,” then alternative energy sources may not be as safe as we think, weakening the conclusion. Since our assessment of the conclusion changes, the Variance Test tells us that this answer raises an issue relevant to it. It is therefore an incorrect answer choice to this Evaluate-EXCEPT question.

Answer choice (B). This is the correct answer choice. The question raised is whether the processes used to turn sewage into water and sludge have recently been improved. First, notice that the activist expresses hope for the future; an issue concerning the past is unlikely to be especially relevant. Second, the issue raised here concerns a different process from the one described in the stimulus. If in doubt, apply the Variance Test: First, try the answer “No.” If the process of turning sewage into water and sludge has not recently been improved, would that diminish our future ability to generate enough power from sewage sludge? No. Let’s look at the opposite side: what if the process has been improved? Even so, we cannot predict whether the second process—that of deriving oil from sewage sludge to generate power—will become any easier, cheaper, or more feasible as a result. Because our view of the validity of the conclusion does not change when we consider different responses to the question posed in answer choice (B), the Variance Test tells us that answer choice (B) is irrelevant to the conclusion of the argument. Therefore, this is the correct answer choice to this Evaluate-EXCEPT question.

Answer choice (C). The economic sustainability of the alternative energy sources described is clearly relevant to our ability to adopt them and replace nuclear power generation. If is too expensive to produce and use oil from sewage sludge, then the conclusion is weakened. But if the cost is manageable, the conclusion is strengthened. So, depending on the answer supplied to the question posed in answer choice (C), our view of the validity of the argument changes: sometimes we view the conclusion as stronger and other times as weaker. Therefore, according to the Variance Test, this answer choice raises an issue relevant to evaluating the practicability of the solution proposed.

Answer choice (D). If burning oil from sewage sludge contributes to global warming, whereas nuclear power production does not, then the argument in favor of adopting this alternative energy source in lieu of nuclear power is weakened. But if burning sewage sludge oil produced no gases that could warm the environment, then the activist’s argument is strengthened. Depending on the answer supplied to the question posed in answer choice (D), our view of the validity of the argument changes. Therefore, according to the Variance Test, this answer choice raises an issue relevant to the conclusion, and is therefore incorrect.

Answer choice (E). This answer choice raises another issue relevant to evaluating the environmental safety of using oil derived from sewage sludge as an energy source. If the waste by-products of this process are just as dangerous as those produced by using nuclear fuel, then the conclusion is weakened. But if they are not as dangerous, then the conclusion is strengthened. Clearly, then, answer choice (E) raises an issue relevant to the conclusion of the argument, and is therefore incorrect.
 nutcracker
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#39547
Hi,

I would like to make sure that I'm understanding answer choice (A) correctly.

I think it's saying whether the current methods of dumping sewage sludge do environmental damage, which is what we normally do to dispose of sewage sludge if we don't use it to generate electricity by driving an oil from it.

Based on this interpretation, (A) is quite irrelevant to the argument, since a "yes" answer would strengthen the argument, while a "no" answer has no effect on the argument (if the current way of doing things does no harm to begin with, changing to another way that does no harm either does not "better protect the environment from harm").

Please let me know if I'm reading this answer choice wrong! Thanks a lot.
 Eric Ockert
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#39779
Hey there!

Answer choice (A) is discussing the current methods for disposing of sewage sludge. I think you are reading into the answer too much if you add "if we don't use it to generate electricity by deriving oil from it." The answer never makes this qualification. Keep in mind, just because you can now derive an oil from the sludge, doesn't mean you no longer have to dispose of it.

So now, when analyzing the relevance of answer choice (A), you are really just asking whether or not disposing of sewage sludge (whether used for oil or not) causes environmental damage. If the current methods do cause environmental damage, that would weaken the argument that this technology better protects the environment from harm than does nuclear power. If the current methods do not cause environmental damage, that would strengthen the argument that the technology better protects than nuclear power. Since this answer therefore meets the Variance Test, it would be relevant to help you Evaluate the Argument.

Hope that helps!
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 cornflakes
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#84612
I went down the same mental rabbit hole as nutcracker on this one in contemplating answer A. I think it made it more complicated but didn't ultimately change my interpretation of how relevant the answer was.

I imagined a few quick scenarios for "whether the current methods of disposing of sewage sludge by dumping do environmental damage."

The first situation I imagined was the new method would take more sludge out of the environment for use in energy production, and the energy producer would then use it for extracting the oil. If we assume this process completely uses up all the sludge and there's nothing left to dump, then the knowledge of whether sludge dumping causes environmental damage out in the environment becomes relevant to evaluating the optimism (if it does cause more env damage out there, optimism seems justified, if it doesn't then optimism seems unbacked). The other corollary of this line of thought was that the energy producer removes the sludge from the environment and the energy production process causes waste products that need to be dumped and cannot be recycled (as many processes do). Under this line of thinking, the knowledge of sludge causing environmental damage is still definitely relevant, but working in the opposite direction (if it does cause environmental damage, then hope is diminished (weakened), if it does not cause environmental damage, then hope is increased (strengthened). All in short, these were two lines of thought I traveled on to get to the same answer, probably wasting unnecessary time.

Administrator's rationale makes sense of just looking at it from a straight on standpoint instead - if the dumping causes environmental damage, then hope is diminished that the tech better protects the environment from nuclear power (under the assumption that we'll need to dump if we use for energy production.)

It would be helpful to know if anyone is any tips for not going down these theoretical rabbit holes when unnecessary, as they do burn a lot of time haha.
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 seanjae
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#98805
Dear Powerscore,

I am having a difficult time trying to see why (A) is wrong. Would you mind helping me out?

While taking the test, I was torn between (A) and (B). In other questions, I would have chosen (B), because (B) requires assumptions not stated in the passage to become a relevant answer e.g. maybe we could get more sewage sludge because of the improved processes. However, (A) seemed completely off. I decided to go with (A), since we are asked to choose what would be the least relevant in evaluating, and (B) at least can have some relevance with the help of unjustified assumptions.

I think my gripe lies within the wording “current methods” and “disposing of sewage sludge by dumping” of (A).

1. I thought there was a time element implied in the argument. The argument says that “with the usage of the new technology (plus others), 1) we have hope that we can dispense nuclear power and 2) meet our energy needs in a sustainable manner which does less harm to the environment.” Naturally, the point where we use the new technology to the extent where it completely substitutes nuclear power will be in the future.

However, (A) only mentions “current” methods. I thought we couldn’t be sure if current methods will be used in the future or not, so we can’t judge whether it strengthens or weaken the argument.

2. Even when we suppose current methods are always used, (A) would still be irrelevant. The passage does not mention anything about sewage sludge, except that it is a source from which we derive oil the new technology uses to generate power. We don’t know what would happen to the sludge e.g. whether the amount would increase or decrease when we use the technology, except that we would get oil from it. So, as much as I didn’t like, I supposed sewage sludge would be a constant from common sense. We’re bound to create some waste, right? But that seems to put (A) off.

There would be sewage sludge and the current method which dumps it regardless of the new technology. We could apply the Variance Test while knowing this.

1) What if sewage sludge dumping causes environmental damage?
Currently, we have nuclear power (bad) and sewage sludge (bad). If the argument’s expectation is correct, then we will get rid of nuclear power. We still would have sewage sludge, which is bad, but since we don’t have nuclear power, we would be doing less harm to the environment.

In the case where the argument is incorrect, when we can’t either eliminate nuclear power or meet the energy demands, we can’t be sure what would happen to the environment.

2) What if sewage sludge dumping does not cause environmental damage?
We now have nuclear power (bad) and sewage sludge (neutral). Again, if the argument’s expectation is correct, then we would get rid of nuclear power and be left with only sewage sludge. Since we have eliminated a bad factor, we would be doing less harm to the environment.

In the case where the argument is incorrect, when we can’t either eliminate nuclear power or meet the energy demands, we can’t be sure what would happen to the environment.

So to me, it seems (A) works the same under both circumstances, and thus cannot properly evaluate the argument.

Am I overthinking? Or is my line of thinking wrong?

Thank you in advance.
 Luke Haqq
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#98937
Hi seanjae!

To address why answer choice (A) is incorrect, let's take the specific wording of the conclusion: "This new technology, therefore, together with the possibility of using alternative sources of energy like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power, raises the hope that we can dispense altogether with nuclear power and that we can meet our energy needs in a way that better protects the environment from harm than we do at present."

Answer choice (A) addresses the end of this conclusion, the part claiming "that we can meet our energy needs in a way that better protects the environment from harm than we do at present." The technology mentioned in the conclusion is the tech that can convert sewage sludge into an oil that can generate power. Answer choice (A) raises "whether the current methods of disposing of sewage sludge by dumping do environmental damage." On one reading, that tech seems to be included in "current methods." We don't know what sort of environmental damage, if any, this new method causes, so addressing that uncertainty about its potential harmful effects would be helpful in evaluating the argument that "we can meet our energy needs in a way that better protects the environment from harm than we do at present." But even if the new tech isn't included in current methods, it'd still be relevant to know what sorts of harms, if any, present methods cause in order to evaluate whether a new option "better protects the environment from harm than we do at present."
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 lemonade42
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#106053
Hello,
I'm having difficulty understanding why the variance test wouldn't work on (B). Because to me, I think if I said "No, the processes have not improved" then that suggests there's no hope for the future because if it hasn't improved yet, then there's no reason to suggest that it will improve and give me hope for the future. Which weakens the conclusion. And if I said "Yes, the processes have improved", then that makes me hopeful that it could continue on and give hope for the future.

I originally chose (C) because I thought that the money aspect of the answer choice is irrelevant to the hope of the future. For example, considering money is not important because the author is only considering the environmental and global impacts of the new technology. So if I were to put a variance test, being economically sustainable wouldn't impact the hope for these new technologies to meet energy needs and protect the environment from harm. (because perhaps the author could have hope regardless of the money being spent sustainably or not). So the conclusion would not be weakened or strengthened.
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 Dana D
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#106087
Hey Lemonade,

We want to key in on the last sentence here - the author has hope because they think we can meet our energy needs in a way that better protects the environment from the harm we do at present. This means that if any of the ideas they are proposing would not better protect the environment, then their hope is unfounded.

Answer choice (B) is irrelevant because the author says this is a new technology capable of generating power from sewage sludge and oil - whether or not the processes for sewage and clean water has improved is irrelevant. First, because we are talking about sewage and oil, not sewage and clean water, and second, because the process of separating the oil and sewage doesn't matter as much as the fact that we have new technology that will let us generate power from this. Imagine if we were talking about discovering hydraulic power here - maybe the water pump process we have been using for decades has never improved, but all of the sudden we discovered we can harness energy from the pump process. We don't need the actual pump process to be better, it's the energy generation we're excited about.

Answer choice (C) is important in assessing the author's hope, because if the cost of producing and using oil from sewage sludge is not economically sustainable, then it cannot continue, and the author has less reason to think we will be able to abstain from needing fossil fuels or nuclear power.

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